Melbourne’s not shy of good Italian. You can’t walk out your door without running into a plate of spaghetti. And so it’s a big call to say that Rosa’s Kitchen is doing some of the best Italian in town. We’re not talking big-spend no-holds-barred ristorante Italian – we’d point you to Di Stasio, or Rosetta for that. And they don’t do pizza, so we’re not pitting this joint against DOC – chill, pizze fans.
But if we’re comparing apples with apples, in the field of no-fuss trattorias slinging simple produce-driven dishes, you can’t do much better than Rosa’s Kitchen.
If that name rings a bell, it should. Chef Rosa Mitchell gained a following for her rustic Sicilian dishes over an eight-year reign at Journal Canteen. She moved Rosa’s Kitchen to a Williamstown pub in 2011, but things didn’t quite pan out. “Williamstown was dead during the day, and I missed the buzz of the city,” Mitchell tells us. So she’s come back and set up shop in Punch Lane.
It’s a small joint. More functional and friendly than flash. The reception area is a makeshift stack of cookbooks and boxes of Peroni and tables are equipped with bright mismatched chairs. The short menu is hastily scrawled on a chalkboard and sides evolve with the produce on hand – some of which comes from Mitchell’s farm.
You may start with antipasto of cracked olives and pan-fried cubes of ricotta dura. Our plate also has ribbons of pickled zucchini, minty pearl barley salad, and creamy-sweet onion frittata.
Half the menu is pasta, but the servings are small enough to order a few without slumping into a carb’ fugue. Spaghetti vongole is a dish of little clams holding a fine dice of onion, garlic, parsley and just-cooked cherry tomatoes, all caught in a slippery tangle of extra thick, bitey spaghetti – just how they like it in Sicily. Sharp, salty, oily – it’s simplicity incarnate.
Orecchiette – those tiny cupped buttons of pasta – rumbles with grilled cauliflower, sweet currants and salty brown anchovies, all crunched up with a liberal sprinkling of fried breadcrumbs.
It’s an all hand on deck situation here. Waiters peel beans, and even Mitchell busses dishes. On the plus side, everyone knows the menu backwards, but expect slower service during busy times.
Try the veal tongue if it’s on. The meat is poached whole with carrots, celery and onions and served in warm, thin pink slices fanned across the plate. It’s really approachable – incredibly similar in texture and taste to corned beef. Maybe there will be slow-cooked lamb shoulder with the bite of wild chicory.
For dessert? Cross your fingers for a rich custard tart with late-season peaches. Mitchell knows how to boss pastry around.
Take a date. Go for lunch. Rosa’s is pasta, Marsala and everything that’s good about great Italian.